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Tactical Talk: Ignore set piece defending at your peril

A different set of skills, but still fundamental in the sport.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Chivas USA have struggled to defend in the run of play on a regular basis in 2014. But on Wednesday, they faltered in a different way in a 4-2 loss to the Seattle Sounders, giving up three goals off set pieces, including two very similar goals scored within minutes by the same player.

The question is whether set piece defending is fundamentally different than defending during live ball situations. The sport is the same, but it seems pretty clear the method of defending is distinct.

We all know that the set pieces are one of the most important aspects of soccer. Is not unusual to see the final score favors the team best suited at handling set pieces, not to mention goals are regularly scored from set plays.

Dead balls are dangerous because in those situations everything changes: there is obviously no more ball in movement, you have to keep your eyes both on the ball and on the player you're marking, teams are organized to usually follow a designed plan to attack or defend, and you have all the players essentially split in two categories -- attackers and defenders.

Defending set pieces in soccer is a hard task to face. The defence rarely knows what is going on, and the defenders have to quickly react and change their defensive game plan according to the circumstances. The most important decision a coach has to make dealing with dead balls is if he wants his side playing a man-to-man marking or a zonal-coverage. That said, usually you have both of them on corner kick situations while zonal-coverage has became more utilized defending free kicks.

Defending free kicks that can be delivered into the box require a large amount of attention. Usually, the defending team builds a wall of one or two players in front of the set piece taker, allocating the other defenders in a line. One of the key factors here is to determine the number of players in the line. Those footballers have to be the best defending against the cross the set piece taker will made. A good rule over there is to allocate a number of players superior to the attackers, in the way to have the numerical edge over the attacking side. Another rule is how long this line has to be. Well, the line should be extended in the way to cover every spaces between the players occupied by the forwards. Every defender should be assigned the task to cover a determined space.

By the way, a key aspect of defending set pieces, regardless of tactics, remains footballers' concentration. Whether the team is in man-to-man marking or they are adopting a zonal coverage, defenders have to be focused, on the man and on the ball, securing that no attacking player could have a clear path to the ball.

That's didn't happen against Seattle, where both of Andy Rose's goals came on set-pieces delivered by Brad Evans. In both cases, Ryan Finley and Bobby Burling were easily beaten by Seattle's midfielder. Surely, the early goal allowed by Chivas USA already set the tone of the game but this lack of concentration is inexcusable.

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